On Monday, February 5th, Larry Hartenstein decided to go out to Granite Canyon and ski Air Force 2 with a partner. He was involved in a serious avalanche and is happy to be alive. Backcountry Zero sat down with the longtime local and manager of JH Sports to hear about the experience and the lessons he learned.
Backcountry Zero (BZ): Had you skied with this partner before?
Larry: I have skied with my partner a bunch over the last 18 years.
BZ: Do both of you have avalanche and first aid training and were you carrying all of the appropriate backcountry gear?
Larry: We both have avalanche training, first aid training and had all of the necessary gear. Airbags, transceivers, probes, shovels and the knowledge on how to use them.
BZ: How did you decide what line to ski that day?
Larry: I had the skied the same line two days earlier and thought it was appropriate to ski it again.
BZ: Did you evaluate conditions along the way and/or ever consider turning around or choosing a different route?
Larry: We didn’t really evaluate conditions but as I entered my line I definitely thought it might rip out on me. I had a feeling and I should have listened to my intuition. My partner never second guessed my choice as I am in the village skiing every day.
BZ: Tell us what happened - how was the avalanche triggered?
Larry: I cut the slope on the left side of Air Force 2 and skied maybe 3 turns before I saw the avalanche propagate to my left. It was a smaller crown and I tried to ski away from it. I didn’t make it away from the slide and got pulled in after a couple of seconds. I tried to pull my air bag 7 or 8 times during the slide but was unsuccessful as I was getting violently thrown around and I couldn’t see nor breathe (for most of the experience). Upon realizing I wasn’t being successful with my airbag, I attempted to fight for the top of the slide and swim as hard as I could. I had 2 open moments of air during my 400 (approximate) yards of being in the slide path and fortunately was able to gasp for breaths to sustain myself. Both skis got ripped off (Din 13) and I lost both poles.
BZ: Was your friend able to dig you out? Did you call ski patrol or 911?
Larry: Upon the terminus of the slide, I came to an abrupt stop about 50 yards above my partner who was standing in our predetermined safe spot. I was partially buried from about my waist down and I was able to extricate myself. I was able to walk/slide on my boots to my partner in the safe zone. After regaining my composure, I was able to spot one of my skis and a pole about 100 yards down. I one skied to the traverse and fortunately my partner found my other ski very near the bottom. Upon making it back into the village, I went to JHMR Ski Patrol and expressed what happened. I also called the Avy line and gave them my information.
BZ: What did you learn from the experience?
Larry: Avalanches are scary as hell but maybe less scary than my wife (she was pretty upset with me)! A 12” soft slab can absolutely kill you and my series of bad choices could have been my demise. Skiing on a considerable day as it was heating up at 3:30 PM were all bad choices. I also skied the more dangerous of the two lines and as the final skier, I should have made a better decision.
BZ: What advice would you offer for others heading out of bounds?
Larry: Skiing something a day or 2 before gives no protection for a new day, this heuristic in JH is a huge problem. I have been in 3 major avalanches now (lots of smaller events) and I don’t want to be in a 4th. I am extremely lucky to have survived this event. Be smart out there and think about all of the variables that can lead to problems.
BZ: How will you avoid being involved in a similar situation in the future?
Larry: I have been actively skiing safer lines and have actually said no for the first time ever to a possible ski partner in the JHMR side-country. I am not invincible and I continually try and think of someone having to call my Mom/Family to tell her that I am dead. My boy needs his Daddy and this has been hitting home for me.